CN Tower, Canada
Photograph by Jim Bradford, The Canadian Press
A bolt of lightning strikes the CN Tower, once the tallest free-standing building in the world, in Toronto, Canada. Tall buildings are usually equipped with lightning rods to give the electricity from a lightning strike, up to one billion volts, a safe path to the ground.
Photograph by Ingram Publishing/Getty Images
Bolts of lightning descend like tentacles from a storm-roiled sky. Benjamin Franklin discovered in 1752 that lightning is actually electricity. In his now-famous experiment, he sent a kite with a metal key tied to the string up into a thunderstorm. Sparks leaping from the key confirmed his hunch about lightning.
Photograph by Scott M. Lieberman, Associated Press
Lightning flashes within a cloud near Tyler, Texas. Cloud-to-cloud lightning is one of the most common types; it travels between positive- and negative-charged areas of clouds.
Photograph by Todd Gipstein, National Geographic
Bolts of lightning flash in the night during a thunderstorm in Groton, Connecticut. The myth that lightning doesn't strike the same place twice is just that—a myth. If enough charge remains after an initial lightning strike, another bolt can follow the same path, causing the flickering effect seen in some lightning strikes.
Photograph by Steve and Donna O'Meara, National Geographic
Volcanic lightning is rare, and lightning between thunderstorms and ash clouds even more so. In this photo, taken in May 2009, lightning flashes between a thunderstorm and the eruption plume from Rabaul volcano on New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea.
New Mexico Lightning
Photograph by Mark Wilson, Roswell Daily Record/AP
Lightning erupts from a purple cloud over Roswell, New Mexico.
Forked Lightning Bolt
Photograph by Thomas Allen, Digital Vision/Getty Images
Mother Nature paints an electric-blue sky with a bold twist of lightning. Lightning and thunder occur simultaneously, but because light travels faster than sound, we see lightning first. Count the seconds between a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder and divide by five to estimate how far away in miles the storm is. Divide by three for kilometers.
Lightning and Giraffe
Photograph by Gerard Fritz, Getty Images
Cloud-to-cloud lightning illuminates the silhouette of a giraffe and trees. Central Africa has the most lightning activity in the world.
Lightning Over Miami
Photograph by Brian Hightower, Your Shot
Lightning branches out between clouds over nighttime Miami, Florida.
Lightning Strikes the Big Apple
Photograph by Gregory Kramer, Getty Images
White lightning strikes between two buildings in New York City. Lightning often strikes a high point in a given area, whether it is a tall building or a person, but not necessarily the tallest thing around, as shown in this photo.
Photograph by Dana Lovallo, My Shot
Cloud-to-cloud lightning lights up the night sky over a small town in Connecticut.
Chimney Rock, Colorado
Photograph by James L. Amos, National Geographic
A horizontal bolt of lightning tries to lasso Chimney Rock, also called Jackson Butte, in Colorado.
Lightning at Night, Walton, Nebraska
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic
Whips of lightning crack the sky near rural Walton, Nebraska. Because a flash of lightning is actually multiple strokes that occur in a fraction of a second, time exposure photographs like this best capture these rapid-fire displays.
Photograph by Raymond Gehman, National Geographic
Lightning crackles between clouds in the distance off the coast of the Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia.
Photograph by Associated Press
A bolt of lightning streaks behind the Guangzhou International Finance Center in Guangzhou, China.
Sante Fe Trail
Photograph by Bruce Dale, National Geographic
A branch of orange lightning strikes the ground under red-tinged clouds at night along the Sante Fe trail.
Vinales Valley, Cuba
Photograph by Taylor S. Kennedy, National Geographic
Lightning streaks across the sky over Vinales Valley, Cuba. Lightning can travel up to 93,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) per second and reach temperatures of 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 degrees Celsius), more than four times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Circle of Lightning
Photograph by Lynda Smith, My Shot
Lightning forks and rejoins itself over Table Mountain and Lion's Head in Cape Town, South Africa. Central Africa is the area of the world where lightning strikes most frequently.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic
A dramatic cloudburst releases jagged bolts of lightning deep into the Grand Canyon near Point Sublime.
Lightning Over Las Cruces
Photograph by Lionel Brown, Getty Images
Two large lightning bolts strike the ground near Las Cruces, New Mexico. Though human eyes perceive the opposite, lightning moves from the ground up to the cloud.
Photograph by Mavroudakis Fotis, My Shot
Lightning strikes Kavala, Greece. The ancient Greek god Zeus was said to control lightning, but today we know lightning comes from a difference in electrical charge between clouds and the ground or among clouds.
Oriental Pearl Lightning Strike
Photograph by Sung Ming Whang, My Shot
A bolt of lightning strikes the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai, China. The antenna on top of the 1535-foot (468-meter) tower caught fire in April 2010, and lightning was thought to be the cause. Lightning bolts can reach temperatures more than 4 times hotter than the sun.
Cochise County, Arizona
Photograph by Steven Maguire, My Shot
A thunderstorm passes behind the Cochise county courthouse in Arizona. Despite being in a dry part of the country, southeastern Arizona averages 30 to 40 thunderstorms a year.
Bolts on the Water
Photograph by Fotis Mavroudakis, My Shot
Several bolts of lightning strike the water off the coast of Kavala, Greece. Lightning can strike anything that can become electrically charged—including water.
Lightning Over Malaysia
Photograph by Ahmed Arup Kamal, My Shot
Lightning illuminates the horizon behind a Malaysian cityscape.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Photograph by Themba Hadebe, Associated Press
Tall towers are frequent targets of lightning strikes, because there is less air to act as an insulator between the tower and a cloud. In this case, it is the Hillbrow Telkom Tower in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Photograph by Ralph Wetmore, Getty Images
The Tucson, Arizona, skyline is illuminated by a bolt of lightning.
Photograph by Rick Kidd, My Shot
The inhabitants of a powerboat turn on their lights just as a bolt of lightning hits the ground behind it. Covered, walled structures—not boats—are the best places to take refuge from a thunderstorm.
Photograph by Pete Gregoire, My Shot
Saguaro cacti stand in the desert as a thunderstorm rolls overhead. Lightning in dry areas increases the risk of brush fires.
Photograph by Kara Swanson, My Shot
Lightning arcs from the top of a cloud to the horizon off the coast of the Bahamas. Lightning that comes from the top of the cloud can be positive lightning, which is rare but can be significantly more powerful than more common negative lightning. It can also strike farther from the cloud, up to 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.
Lightning Strikes Twice
Photograph by Cui Jingyin, Imaginechina/AP
Foshan, China, is hit by two simultaneous lightning strikes.
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